Who decides what research gets done? Who decides how research is carried out? Who decides what the findings of research means? Normally, the answer to all three of these questions is researchers – academics who often are doing research as an ‘outsider’ to the group they want to research. For example, most research that tries to understand the experiences of young people in foster care is not done by people with any experience in foster care. There are advantages to being an outsider. Outsiders can see things with fresh eyes and notice things that might seem everyday to people with lived experience. However, there are some things an outsider can’t see. An outsider might not notice the normally chatty girl in the group is sitting quietly during an interview. An outsider might miss the whispers before the research starts or know the song everyone in the group is listening to. An outsider might ask questions that are confusing or misunderstand the answers they are given. An outsider might not know what people in the group care about or what questions they want answered.

How do we walk the tight rope between having a fresh view of an outsider and having the knowledge and sensitivity of an insider? One way we can do this is by making partnerships between academic outsiders and insiders with lived experience of being in the group being researched. These insiders are sometimes called peer researchers. Peer researchers are people with lived experience of being in a group that a piece of research is focusing on.

I am a researcher with no experience of being in foster care. I am passionate about understanding the experiences of children and young people who have spent time in foster care. I am an ally but an outsider. In my work I want to make sure that I have input from insiders in planning, carrying out and understanding the findings of my research. To help me with this I am looking to recruit a paid peer researcher – a young person aged 18-25 with lived experience of growing up in foster care. I hope that working as a team will allow us to use the best of our outsider and insider knowledge to create some meaningful and important work understanding fostering relationships.

Eva Sprecher

PhD Student – University College London